Plov |Pilaf – Плов
The main dish in Uzbekistan is called plov. There are around 200 varieties of this meal. It’s so important to Uzbek cuisine and culture that it is featured as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Nationwide competitions are held to see who can make the best plov. It is of great social and cultural significance to the local population and as a consequence, served at all big events and ceremonies. Its main ingredients are lamb or beef fried in a large kazan (cauldron) with onions and yellow or orange carrots. It can be served additionally with kazy (local sausage), eggs and, occasionally, with lemons. The best place to try plov in Uzbekistan is in Tashkent or Samarkand, although every city and even family has its own special plov recipe. In Tashkent, you can go to a plov centre that serves only plov in the afternoon and you can see how it is cooked in huge cauldrons, moreover, you can choose what you want on your plov.
Manty – Манты
Manty is a dumpling stuffed with minced meat, fat and onions. It is cooked over steam and served with ketchup, vinegar or sour cream. There are also variations with pumpkin or potatoes without meat, though you won’t find these in every restaurant.
Meat Skewer – Shashlyk – Шашлык
Shashlyk is a very popular meal in a region stretching from Central Asia to Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. It is usually made from mutton or beef; alternating pieces of meat and fat are well spiced and marinated. It is served with pickled onions. It can be ordered as an add on to the main national dishes or separately as a side dish. In many cafes, you can also get chicken, chicken wings or assorted shashlyks, prepared just like at barbecues over hot coals.
Laghman – Лагман
Lagman is basically handmade pulled noodles in a meat or vegetable sauce. The meat is usually beef, while the vegetables include bell peppers, garlic, onion and fresh herbs. Depending on the location, additional vegetables are added. It has numerous variations from soups to main course dishes. Lagman is a soup, Qavurma Lagman is served as a main dish without broth to it.
Soup – Суп
Soups are very popular in Uzbekistan, even on the hottest of summer days. A popular type of soup is a meat broth soup with big pieces of meat, very often fatty mutton. Its other ingredients comprise pieces of carrot and potato and of course a sprinkling of fresh herbs. Variations of this soup also include noodles or beans cooked in the meat broth and with sour cream in it. In most places, you can also get creamy vegetable lentil soup.
Salad –– салат
The salad that’s most typical in Central Asia is a tomato, cucumber and onion salad. The dressing can be mayonnaise or oil, but most often it’s just sprinkled with salt, pepper and fresh herbs. Most of the salads are made with produce that’s grown locally. You can also get carrot, beet or cabbage salad.
Herbs and other salads
If you’re in a larger city, or a restaurant with more extensive menu, you’ll find a much wider variety of salads from which to choose. You’ll find everything from Caesar to Greek salad. Many local salads, soups and meals include a generous portion of additional herbs like dill, parsley, cilantro or red basil. Other herbs like the regular green basil, oregano and rosemary are used less often in Uzbekistan. It’s best to try out the salad with herbs first, but remember if that makes the flavor too strong, you can always ask the chef to prepare a salad for you without them.
Samsa – Самсa
Samsa is another type of local fast food, sold almost everywhere in cafes in fast food chains or made at home. Indian samosas, triangle shaped dough stuffed with meat or vegetables, were introduced to India by Central Asian traders in the 13th and 14th centuries. In Central Asia, they are always stuffed with meat and onions, and unlike samosas, baked in the oven and never fried. Occasionally, you’ll find samsa with a potato or pumpkin filling.
Bread – Lepyoshka, Tandyr Nan, Patyr Nan – Лепешка/Нoн
In Uzbekistan, a meal without bread is considered incomplete. You’ll find a variety of bread in stores and cafes, but the most common and popular one is a round shaped flat white bread. Typically, it’s baked in a fire oven known as a tandyr (tandoori). As you travel, you will discover that the taste and shape of this bread will vary from place to place.
Dried fruits and nuts – Sukhofrukty i Orekhi – Сухофрукты и орехи
Uzbekistan loves dried apricots, raisins and all manner of nuts. Almost every table will have a plate filled with various dried fruits and nuts. In bazaars and supermarkets, you can find a huge variety of such products, perfect for taking with you as a snack for the journey.
Tea – Chai – Чай
Locals drink tea a lot, and even on hot days hot tea is very popular. In most places, green tea is very common and in cities, you can choose between green and black tea. It is served in small half-filled traditional cups looking more like bowls. Serving a full bowl of tea is considered impolite, whereas a full Western-style cup of tea is OK.
Desert and coffee – Desert i Kofe -Десерт и кофе
Central Asia is a tea-drinking destination. However more and more in touristic restaurants, you will find brewed coffee and deserts. At simple local restaurants or hotels, coffee can be of the instant variety.
Fruits and vegetables- Ovoshi i frukty – Овощи и фрукты
In the big cities, supermarkets will stock both seasonal and exotic fruit and vegetables. Outside the cities, you’ll find the supply is more limited to local produce, such as apples, apricots, peaches, plums and pears. Watermelons and melons are big in size and very tasty. The vegetable choice is mostly limited to carrots, turnip, beets, onions, cabbage, bell peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. Accordingly, most of the dishes outside the cities are limited to these ingredients.
Vegetarian Food in Uzbekistan
In large cities, there are a variety of restaurants and plenty of choice in the menu. With the development of tourism in Uzbekistan and a growing number of vegetarian tourists in recent years, the restaurants in cities are increasingly trying to meet the demand for it. Vegetarians could try manty with potatoes or pumpkin, lentil soup, plov cooked without meat, or combine side dishes like steamed or grilled vegetables with potatoes, rice or pasta and salads. As a vegetarian, it is possible to travel through Uzbekistan, but make sure to tell your guide beforehand, so he/she can pre-order vegetarian meals for you.
If you would like to try discover more dishes and recipes – have a look at a relatively new book with beautiful illustrations and photos: Samarkand: Recipes & Stories from Central Asia & The Caucasus by Caroline Eden.